SUMNER — Wind power in Maine has high impacts with low benefits, a representative of Friends of Maine's Mountains told residents and others at an information meeting Thursday night.
If you block wind power, “Are you giving up a golden opportunity or are you saving what you moved here for?” Christopher O'Neil asked. He said wind power may provide some economic return for some residents, but the overall cost to the community far exceeds the benefits.
Invoking visions of old-time hucksters with mustaches and top hats working out of the back of a wagon, O’Neil accused those who spoke in favor of wind power of “selling snake oil.”
Earlier in the meeting, Clear Sky Energy LLC of Barnstable, Mass., presented its case for developing five wind turbines on Spruce Hills, which includes Mount Tom in the southwestern part of town. Officials from the company cited jobs, clean energy and tax revenue, among other benefits, and said an expert panel found no evidence that turbine sounds had adverse physiological effects.
Pointing out that land-based wind power in Maine only makes economic sense because of government subsidies and incentives, O’Neil asked, “What incentive does the developer have to stick around once the units are depreciated?” He said the project “may be abandoned in a few years if subsidies dry up.”
O'Neil said Clear Sky Energy had completed some good projects, and he praised their construction partner, Cianbro Corp., for their many worthy accomplishments. However, he said the government may end up paying as much as two-thirds of the cost of the Sumner project.
O’Neil mentioned that Cianbro recently completed a state-of-the-art natural-gas-fired power plant for a fraction of the cost of all the wind power installations proposed by the state government. And the plant will reliably produce much more power than wind at much less cost and on a much smaller footprint, he said.
According to O’Neil, Maine has a surplus of electrical energy.
"Our friends to the north in Canada have abundant supplies that we can purchase," he said.
Proponents quoted an article stating some people may be annoyed by noise, but “annoyance is not a disease.”
O’Neil responded with anecdotal reports of families who had to abandon their homes in Vinalhaven because of the incessant noise, and children who could not sleep without pills due to the sound of the wind turbines.
Concern was expressed about turbines catching fire, and Clear Sky President Joe Santolucito pointed out that there were few flammable parts, other than the lube oil. He said local firefighters are trained and equipped to respond, if necessary. He indicated that funds from the project could possibly change Sumner’s volunteer Fire Department to a full-time paid status.
O’Neil said he understood the protocol was for the local fire department to stand by to control forest fires in the event a turbine fell.
The public meeting was held by the town's Industrial Wind Power Committee, which will hold another public meeting Tuesday, Aug. 30, at the fire station. A Maine Revenue Service representative will attend.